The Buffalo Bandits will begin their busiest stretch of the season this weekend with four games in eight days, starting with a home-and-home series against the Halifax Thunderbirds.
Game 1 of the set will be played at KeyBank Center on Saturday at 1 p.m. on ESPN+ and 1520 AM. Tickets are on sale now. Game 2 will take place in Halifax in Sunday at 4 p.m.
It is the first time this season that the top two teams in the East Division will square off. The Bandits still hold the best record in the NLL at 10-1, while the Thunderbirds are just two games back at 8-3.
Buffalo was scheduled to play in Halifax on January 22, but because COVID-19 guidelines in Nova Scotia limited fan attendance, the game was flexed to this Sunday.
The Bandits are coming off their first bye week since mid-January. They last played on March 12, where they put together a dominant effort in a 17-5 victory over the Philadelphia Wings. Halifax faced two uncharacteristic losses against Albany and Georgia before a bye week last weekend.
The Thunderbirds are looking to bounce back, already knowing what to expect in a grueling back-to-back scenario, which Buffalo hasn’t experienced yet this season. With victories this weekend, Buffalo can put some more distance in the standings between themselves and Halifax.
Here is what you need to know:
1. Scouting the Thunderbirds
Halifax’s offense is an extremely deep group, and the team has one of the NLL’s most reliable goaltenders in between the pipes. Their top scorer is Shawn Evans, a veteran acquired at the deadline from Rochester who has played just two games, notching five points (1+4) with his new club.
He has 52 points on the season (10+42), which is tied for 21st in the NLL. He has joined a club that is one of just three teams with at least six players who have more than 30 points this season.
Forward Austin Shanks has the most goals on the team with 21, along with 18 assists. Clarke Petterson (15+30), Cody Jamieson (10+26), and Stephan Leblanc (8+26) all like to share the wealth, recording substantially more assists than goals.
Goaltender Warren Hill is on pace for a career year with a 7-3 record, a 9.04 goals-against average and an .804 save percentage. This season, Hill has allowed double-digit goals in just four of his ten outings, keeping the Thunderbirds in tight, low-scoring contests.
2. Staying pat at Trade Deadline
Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich stayed relatively quiet as the Trade Deadline passed on March 15. The organization valued keeping this group intact.
Buffalo’s lone transaction was acquiring a 2024 first-round pick from the New York Riptide for Brent Noseworthy and a 2022 fourth-round selection.
In his eight games with Buffalo this season, Noseworthy recorded two assists and scooped up 23 loose balls.
3. Struggle on Special Teams
A major weakness for Halifax is on both the power play and the penalty kill. The Thunderbirds rank last in the league with a 29.2 percent conversion rate (14-for-48) on the man advantage.
Things aren’t much better on the other side of the ball, as Halifax sits 13th out of 14 teams on the kill. Halifax has given up 29 goals in 54 attempts (46.3 percent), which is slightly better than the Riptide’s 46.2 clip that is dead last.
Against the Albany FireWolves on March 11, Halifax allowed three shorthanded goals, along with a power-play strike from Joe Resetarits. The next day against the Swarm, they could only convert on one of five power-play opportunities.
In Buffalo’s last game against Philadelphia, the Bandits went 2-for-2 on the power play as their unit continues to improve as the season wears on. Buffalo’s power play is fourth in the NLL at 47.8 percent. The Bandits’ penalty kill is third at 57.6 percent.